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On March 7, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee entitled “Putting Consumers First? A Semi-Annual Review of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the hearing covered the semi-annual report to Congress on the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2018 through September 30, 2018. Kraninger was confirmed as Director in December 2018, and this was her first testimony before the Committee in that role. In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Maxine Waters expressed concern with the changes that took place at the Bureau under former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s time in office and announced a draft bill titled the “Consumers First Act,” which directs the Bureau to, among other things, “promptly reverse all anti-consumer actions taken during Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure.” In her opening testimony, Kraninger emphasized that she is committed to “stability, consistency, and transparency” in the Bureau’s actions and believes the Bureau’s focus should be on the prevention of harm, specifically emphasizing the importance of the Bureau’s mission to educate consumers. Additionally, highlights of Kraninger’s testimony include:
- Supervision and Enforcement. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that supervision is an important tool in the Bureau’s toolkit to assist companies working to comply with laws and regulations. She asserted that enforcement is a tool that should only be used for bad actors who have “no intention” to comply with the law, and should not be used against entities seeking to comply and self-report compliance concerns. When asked to discuss the Bureau’s reported 35 open enforcement investigations, which include investigations opened under former Director Richard Corday, Kraninger noted that she reviews the actions as they come to a decision point but believes that the Bureau’s enforcement staff is carrying out the agency’s mission and following her guidance on how to proceed.
- Office Reorganizations. Kraninger fielded a number of questions regarding former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s actions, including the reorganization of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity and the dismantling of the Office of Students and Younger Consumers. As for fair lending, Kraninger emphasized that moving the office to be part of the Office of the Director helps to facilitate its policy interests across the Bureau and enhances the mission of fair lending. Concerning the Bureau’s work regarding student loans, Kraninger noted that there is still dedicated staff working on student loan issues in the Bureau’s Consumer Education and Engagement section and that they are currently looking to fill the vacant role for the Student Loan Ombudsman.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger reiterated her position that she does not believe Dodd-Frank gives the Bureau the authority to supervise for compliance with the Act under Section 1024(b)(1)(C)—which many state Attorneys General and Democratic congressional leaders have contended it does—and repeated her request for Congress to grant the Bureau with the clear authority to do so (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
- UDAAP. Kraninger noted that the Bureau’s regulatory agenda includes a consideration of a pre-rulemaking activity covering the definition of “abusive,” stating that while the current statute has a definition that prevents companies from taking “unreasonable advantage” of a consumer, she believes there should be clarity on what is considered a “reasonable” advantage.
- Congressional Changes to CFPB. Kraninger stated that she will continue to undertake the responsibilities allocated to the Director under Dodd-Frank but welcomes Congressional action that would provide additional “accountability and transparency” to the agency.
The second part of the hearing consisted of testimony from industry and consumer group representatives in which they discussed the CFPB’s previous actions and their suggestions for actions Bureau leadership should take going forward. Copies of each witnesses’ testimony are available here.
On March 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina affirmed the recommendation of a Magistrate Judge and denied the motion of a law firm, one of its partners, and others’ (collectively, “defendants”) to dismiss an action alleging that the defendants violated the Federal Anti-Assignment Act (FAAA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). These alleged violations were based on the advance purchase of future military pension and disability benefits in exchange for current lump sum payments. According to the report of the Magistrate Judge, five military veterans (collectively, “plaintiffs”) alleged that the defendants operated a coordinated scheme to generate leads from veterans seeking money, and connected veterans to brokers and purchasers in order for the veteran to sell future pension and disability payments for a lump sum wire transfer. The plaintiffs also alleged the operators required the veterans to execute an insurance policy or structured asset agreement to ensure the loan is fully repaid upon the veteran’s death. The Magistrate Judge recommended the motions be denied, concluding that the plaintiffs sufficiently pled the details of the alleged scheme and that the defendants violated the FAAA by inducing veterans to enter into contracts to sell their retirement or disability benefits in advance of the date they are due and payable. Moreover, the Magistrate Judge found that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged the individual plaintiffs violated RICO by engaging in a criminal enterprise that “coordinated various corporations and websites to buy the plaintiffs’ and other veterans’ benefits and funnel the proceeds through [a defendant]’s account.” Upon review of the report, the district court found “no clear error” by the Magistrate Judge, agreed with the recommendations, and denied the motions to dismiss.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, one of the individual defendants was recently fined $1 in civil money penalties by the CFPB for allegedly violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act by operating a website that connected veterans with companies offering high-interest loans in exchange for the assignment of some or all of their military pension payments.
On March 5, U.S. Senate Democrats issued a letter urging CFPB Director, Kathy Kraninger, to resume reviews for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA) during routine lender examinations. The Senators argue that the existing statutory authorities for the Bureau “are more than sufficient to justify including MLA compliance in routine examinations,” in an apparent response to Kraninger’s January request to Congress to grant the Bureau “clear authority” to conduct the examinations. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The Senators cite to Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which states that the Bureau “shall require reports and conduct examinations on a periodic basis . . . for purposes of . . . detecting and assessing risks to consumers and to markets for consumer financial products and services,” and asserts that charging servicemembers and their families more than 36 percent in violation of the MLA is “clearly a risk” to consumers. Concluding that the CFPB has all the authority it needs to include the MLA in routine examinations, the Senators request the Bureau provide a full justification of the leadership’s decision to not review for compliance with the MLA by March 8.
On March 4, the CFPB issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, which often takes the form of loans to facilitate residential solar energy and other home improvement projects. The ANPR was issued in response to Section 307 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which amended TILA to mandate the CFPB propose regulations related to PACE financing. Specifically, the regulations are required to carry out the purposes of TILA’s ability-to-repay requirements and apply TILA’s general civil liability provisions for violations, accounting for the “unique nature” of the transaction. In addition to seeking feedback on the unique features of PACE financing and the general implications of regulating PACE financing under TILA, the ANPR also requests commenters (i) provide samples of any written materials used in PACE financing transactions; (ii) describe the current standards and practices in PACE financing origination, including application information obtained and underwriting standards used; and (iii) identify parties in a PACE financing transaction to whom civil liabilities may apply, including information related to any rescission rights and loss mitigation programs available upon borrower default. Comments must be submitted within 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On March 1, the CFPB released its latest Quarterly Consumer Credit Trends report titled, “Mortgages to First-time Homebuying Servicemembers,” which analyzes mortgages made to first-time homebuying active duty servicemembers and veterans (collectively defined as “servicemembers”). The report, using data from the Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) supplemented with data on military service, offers information on the mortgage choices and mortgage performance outcomes of servicemembers who bought homes between 2006 and 2016. Key findings include:
- The share of first-time homebuying servicemembers using the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guaranteed home loan program significantly increased, from 30 percent before 2007 to 63 percent in 2009. By 2016, 78 percent of servicemembers relied on a VA mortgage for their first home loan.
- Conventional mortgages, which accounted for approximately 60 percent of loans among first-time homebuying servicemembers in 2006 and 2007, declined to 13 percent by 2016. During this period, the use of conventional mortgages among non-servicemembers also decreased, as the use of FHA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) increased.
- In 2016, the median servicemember first-time homebuyer VA loan amount was $212,000, increasing from $156,000 in 2006.
- Early delinquency rates for nonprime servicemember first-time VA-loan borrowers decreased from an average of 5 percent to 7 percent in 2006 and 2007 to slightly above 3 percent in 2016. Notably, early delinquency rates were lower for active duty VA-loan borrowers than for veteran VA-loan borrowers.
On February 27, the CFPB’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans released Suspicious Activity Reports on Elder Financial Exploitation: Issues and Trends, which discusses key facts and trends revealed after the Bureau analyzed 180,000 elder exploitation Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed with Financial Crimes Enforcement Network from 2013 to 2017. Key highlights from the report include:
- SARs filings on elder financial abuse quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, with 63,500 SARs reporting the abuse in 2017.
- Nearly 80 percent of the SAR filings involved a financial loss to an elder or to the filing institution. The average amount of loss to an elder was $34,200, while the average amount of loss to a filer was $16,700.
- Financial losses were greater when the elder knew the suspect, with an average loss of $50,000 when the elder knew the suspect compared to $17,000 with a stranger.
- More than half of the SARs involved a money transfer.
- Less than one-third of elder abuse SARs acknowledge that the financial institution reported the activity to a local, state, or federal authority.
On February 25, the CFPB petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for an order requiring a debt collection law office to comply with a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in June 2017. The CID requested information from the debt collection firm as part of a Bureau investigation into whether debt collectors, furnishers, or other persons associated with the collection of debt and furnishing of information have engaged or are engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices in violation of the CFPA, FDCPA, and FCRA. According to the petition, the firm partially responded but withheld several responses asserting that doing so would require the firm's principal to violate professional responsibility rules in the states of New York and New Jersey. Withheld information, the Bureau claims, includes telephone calls and written correspondence with indebted consumers, disputes with consumers over the firm's credit reporting activities to third party agencies, and service contracts with creditors on whose behalf the firm collects debt. The Bureau argued that the court should direct the law firm to comply with the CID because, aside from following all applicable procedural requirements for the issuance of a CID contained within the CFPA, it “has shown that the investigation is being conducted for a legitimate purpose, that the inquiries may be relevant to that purpose, that the information sought is not already within the Bureau's possession, and that the administrative steps required by the [CFPA] and its implementing regulations have been followed. . . .” The Bureau further requested an order that the firm show cause and explain why it should not be compelled to comply with the CID.
On February 26, the FTC announced it had recently provided the CFPB with its annual summary of work on ECOA-related policy issues including the following FTC research and policy development initiatives:
- The FTC held a series of public hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century. Session seven specifically addressed issues related to the use of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics. Panelists addressed how fairness, bias, and discrimination may impact the use of such technologies and debated whether current legal protections such as ECOA sufficiently cover these issues.
- The FTC continued its qualitative study of consumer experiences when buying and selling automobiles at dealerships, which the agency believes will help focus initiatives, such as educating consumers about the purchase and financing process and providing business education to promote compliance with the FTC Act and ECOA.
- The FTC’s Military Task Force, which consists of a cross-section of agency representatives, continued to work on military consumer protection issues. Workshops were conducted to examine financial issues and scams targeting military consumers, including servicemembers and veterans. In addition, the FTC participated in a training program for servicemembers and their families to discuss ECOA and Regulation B protections.
- The FTC maintained its membership in the Interagency Task Force on Fair Lending, along with the CFPB, DOJ, HUD, and the federal banking regulatory agencies, and participated in the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.
Concerning fair lending, the FTC stated that it provided education on several topics, including those related to credit transactions that fall under Regulation B.
On February 27, the CFPB released new technical specifications for prepaid account issuers to use when submitting account agreements pursuant to the prepaid account rule. Issuers can now register to use the new electronic submission system “Collect” before the April 1, 2019 effective date of the Bureau’s prepaid rule. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the prepaid rule here.) The Bureau reminded issuers that all prepaid account agreements offered as of April 1, 2019, must be submitted to the CFPB by May 1, 2019. After May 1, issuers are required to make rolling submissions to the Bureau within 30 days whenever a new agreement is offered, amendments are made to a previously submitted agreement, or a previously submitted agreement is withdrawn. Along with the technical specifications, the Bureau also released several compliance resources, including a user guide, quick reference guide, FAQs and a recorded webinar.
On February 26, the FTC announced its coordination with the CFPB to reauthorize their memorandum of understanding (MOU), which outlines the two agencies’ cooperation under the Consumer Financial Protection Act to prevent duplication of efforts and ensure consistency. The interagency agreement outlines processes for, among other things, coordinated law enforcement activities; consultation on rulemaking activities, including rulemaking regarding prohibitions on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts or practices; and coordinated sharing of supervisory and examination information, strategic and operational planning, consumer complaint information, and consumer education efforts. The MOU also addresses provisions related to information sharing and claims of confidentiality.
- Heidi M. Bauer and Dan Ladd to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Tim Lange to discuss "Update from 2019 NMLS Conference" at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality & Compliance Committee webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Transaction management-issues surrounding purchase & sale agreements, post acquisition integration & trailing docs" at the Investment Management Network Residential Mortgage Servicing Rights Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program